Take a minute and think back to your high school days. Now that you have thought of some of your best memories and hopefully chuckled only a little, did any of those memories involve conceptualizing a product introduction that utilized a flexible circuit or rigidflex? I know mine didn’t. I didn’t give flexible circuitry much thought at all until I interviewed at a flexible circuit manufacturing company after graduating from college. Thankfully, I was hired for that job and my early years in the printed circuit board industry were focused almost exclusively on flex and rigid-flex. One of my favorite phrases to this day came from that time: “Flex is really only limited by your imagination.”
I am from the generation that saw flexible circuit application ideas take off outside of military and aerospace work. I remember the insulin pump being developed, and medical equipment—such as hearing aids—becoming smaller, lighter, and more portable. Flex technology and the number of flexible circuit applications is advancing at a staggering pace.
Figure 1: A student team from Abraham Lincoln High School in San Jose, California, pitches their product concept, driving technology, and business model to a panel of representatives. (Source: NextFlex)
With the demand for increasingly complex electronics, we see semi-additive processing, modified semi-additive processing, and flexible hybrid electronics technology (among others), advancing rapidly to meet those needs. Imagine being back in high school and getting introduced to these advanced electronics manufacturing technologies. Then, imagine the opportunity to earn college credit by participating in an entrepreneurial program that challenged you to conceptualize a new product introduction using this technology to solve a human health issue or develop a performance monitoring program where you would pitch your idea in a similar way to the business show “Shark Tank.” Wouldn’t that be fun!
One exciting program that fosters this type of imagination and creativity in high schools is the NextFlex FlexFactor program. Over the past two years, NextFlex—America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Institute—has built and scaled an innovative educational program designed to create a pipeline of young people excited about and prepared for the advanced manufacturing careers of tomorrow.
Emily McGrath, deputy director of workforce development at NextFlex, describes the program: “The FlexFactor platform assembles all the actors in the labor market to allow students to visualize their future and understand the educational pathways to make that future a reality.
Through an amazing immersion experience, students, schools, higher education, and companies interact and bring advanced technologies and entrepreneurship into the classroom in a project-based learning approach that fits in any class, any subject, anywhere. Students leave the program convinced that they can and should be part of solving the big problems of our time and well into the future.”
Through FlexFactor, students are exposed to the vast range of professional opportunities in the advanced manufacturing sector. Skills needed for a career in industry are revealed in a way that is appealing and fun where student teams address a wide range of real-world problems—from cancer treatment and head trauma, to waste management and lunch lines. The conceptualized hardware solutions developed by students often feature an incredible array of revolutionary technologies, including advanced functional fabrics, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, cloud technology, augmented reality, flexible hybrid electronics, and more.
To read the full version of this article which originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.